Friday, November 14, 2014

It's Crazy Ant Season!

This morning when I came into the office, I found my first black crazy ant crawling across my desk.  Then, no sooner had I set my bags down that I received a phone call on how to get rid of these "black, crazy running ants."  It is certainly Black Crazy Ant season!

Every winter, our office becomes overrun with black crazy ants.  These ants are not native to the US, but have been here for decades.  They are certainly not the Rasberry or Tawny Crazy Ant that you may have heard horror stories about.

My office tends to have more crazy ants than the others because I have "pet" insects and tarantulas that are housed in cages with soil or bedding.  The ants love to move in out of the cold, into the heated building, and start nesting in my insect cages.  My simple solution is to move the insect to a new container and set the old one outside until the crazy ants move out.  You may find crazy ants inhabiting your potted plants in the winter months.  Simply set the pot outdoors for a day or so to discourage the ants.

Black crazy ants do not come to baits very readily (or at all!).  The best solution to managing them if they are causing your grief is to apply a barrier insecticide such as permethrin to window sills and door entries - places where the ants may squeeze in.  This will be short lived, so don't be inclined to overapply and expose yourself and your family to too much pesticide.

The black crazy ants will eventually move back outdoors when the weather warms up and even on warmer days.

Photo by Dr. Bart Drees

Monday, November 3, 2014

8 Things to Know about Bed Bugs

The holiday season is upon us and increased travels can mean bringing bed bugs home for some. Here are the top 10 things I think you should know about bed bugs!

1. Bed bugs are not microscopic.  You can see bed bugs with your eyes, they are not imaginary and they are not too small to see.  Bed bugs are about the size, shape and color of an apple seed.  Of course, the little babies are much smaller, but I can still see them with my eyes.  I can even find the eggs if I'm looking close enough and have a good flashlight - you can see bed bugs in all their life stages!
Bed Bug life stages, egg, nymphs (3) and adult.
Photo by: Dr. Bart Drees

2. Not everyone reacts to bed bug bites.  I get this comment all the time: wife calls in about having bed bugs and complains that she's the only one who's being bitten.  Her husband never has bites.  Well, he's being bitten... he's just not reacting.  In fact, Orkin did a little test on about 500 volunteer employees, and they found that only about 5% reacted to the bed bug bites.  So, don't rely on bites as your sign that you have bed bugs.

3.  Bed bugs are not found only in the beds. While the majority of bed bug infestations are on the bed and box spring, they will spread to peripheral areas of the room.  Bed bugs can be found on popcorn ceilings (one of their favorite spots), behind outlets and plugs, on the bed frame, on side tables, in curtains, between the carpeting and baseboard, my list can go on and on.  In fact the absolutely WORST thing you can do if you have bed bugs, is leave the room and start sleeping somewhere else. 

You run the risk of taking bed bugs into the new room or house on your belongings (sheets, blankets, pillows, teddy bears) AND bed bugs will travel to find you.  When placing traps in homes, we collect bed bugs in all locations of the home - hallways, kitchens, bathrooms.  Bed bugs wander aimlessly looking for a blood meal.  It may sound gross, but you have to keep yourself in the infested bed as bait to prevent your entire dwelling from becoming infested.

4.  Bed bugs are FAST!  I am always amazed at how quick bed bugs can run.  They are much quicker than you would imagine - almost like tiny cockroaches.

5. Heat kills all stages of bed bugs.  When heated thoroughly at 120F for 1 minute, eggs, nymphs and adult bed bugs will die.  You can use this to your advantage.  Heating clothes, sheets, bags, or any other item in your drier on high heat for at least 30 minutes will kill bed bugs!  If you are afraid you brought some home, put your belongings in the drier and let the heat knock them out.

Solar heating is also possible.  The car will never really get hot enough (even in the summer) to kill bed bugs (under the seats and other spots will not heat up to 120F), but you can still use the sun to your advantage.  Use a clear plastic bag and stuff your belongings inside.  Let it sit outside on hot, sunny day.  Greenhouse effects will raise the temperature in the bag above the atmospheric temp and you can kill bed bugs.  Be sure to use a thermometer to make sure the center of your bag gets hot enough for along enough.  The goal is 120F for about 20-30 minutes.
Photo by: Dr. Mike Merchant

6.  Bed bugs are NOT a sign of poor sanitation.  Anyone can get bed bugs.  It is not a sign that you do not wash your sheets or take care of your home.  Any socioeconomic class can get bed bugs - this is not a poor person's problem.  Bed bugs can be picked up anywhere, by anyone, at anytime.  If you get bed bugs don't be ashamed, get help and know that getting bed bugs only means that you left your house.

7. Just because you find a bug in your bed, does not mean you have bed bugs.  Many other insects and arthropods can be confused for bed bugs:  ticks, carpet beetles, spider beetles.  Carpet beetles tend to crawl between the mattress and box spring when they are ready to go from the larvae stage to the pupa stage.  While they look completely different than a bed bug (to an entomologist like me), if you find a bug in your bed, the natural reaction is to assume bed bugs.  Get the bugs identified by a professional.  Get a second option to be sure.  There are pest control companies out there who have extensive experience with bed bugs and can give you an accurate identification.  You can also always utilize your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service (me!).

8.  Bed bugs are not impossible to control!  Good news!  It is absolutely possible to manage bed bugs, contrary to what you may have heard in the media.  There are many treatment options for bed bugs - heat (discussed previously), cold/cryo treatments, intense steam, sanitation, fumigation and other chemical controls.